Friday Football Practice Report

Coach Sylvester Croom was almost amused at the "zip and enthusiasm" his Bulldogs showed Friday afternoon at practice. But not surprised. "It seems to work that way when you come inside where it's air-conditioned, you've got shoulder pads and shorts on," he smiled.

Fortunately the Mississippi State coach was still smiling while discussing the results of two-plus hours of work in the Palmeiro Center. Partial pads and comfy conditions aside, the Bulldogs did put in a solid afternoon both with the tasks at Friday-hand and in preparation for their second scrimmage of this 2008 preseason. The game-type session at Scott Field, which is closed to the public and media alike, is a crucial juncture in this camp.

"Part of it is going to be a regular practice, and then the last part will be a scrimmage," Croom said. The practicing part is for goal-line schemes, both offense and defense, as well as further installation of kickoff and coverage. "We've got a lot of those situations to cover. Then I want to find out about some on-the-bubble kind of guys and decide how we're going to use them this first game, whether we're going to take them on the trip.

"Because after this week the hard work is pretty much over for the guys that are going to be playing the first game. We start repeating some things and really start on the base part of our gameplan."

The indoors workout Friday was intentional. The Bulldogs worked nearly three hours outdoors Thursday in full-gear, and there was no need to over-stress anyone the day before a critical scrimmage. What Croom watched for today was how the players would handle the lightened demands, and they responded with no obvious letdowns. Now, "I want to see if they've got a lot of zip tomorrow. And I expect that, regardless of how hot it is and whatever we run into."

For Friday's injury list, FB Brandon Hart was in limited-yellow with a hip flexor issue but did take a few early turns with the first group before turning the day's duties over to Eric Hoskins. After a couple of good days back at work, DT Kyle Love had the purple shirt back on today and watched most drills. Starting WLB Dominic Douglas was also in purple after dehydrating the day before, and practiced with the first group anyway. Second ‘nickel' safety Chris Nance will have the cast on his cracked right wrist a few more days, and DE Brandon Cooper has yet to go full-speed with his back problems.

DT Devin Jones (hamstring) watched in a red cross shirt. WR O'Neal Wilder stayed in the training room with tendonitis, as did WR Co-Eric Riley with a bruised shoulder.

In advance of Saturday, and with a few members either sidelined or limited, the defensive front adapted. The search for a starting left end also showed in some shifting today as Cortez McCraney shuffled in to tackle and freshman Sean Ferguson moved up to first-team LDE work for squad drills. And Jimmie Holmes, who has practiced until now as second right end, was Ferguson's backup. With Love watching today, LaMarcus Williams ran first at left tackle alongside RDT Jessie Bowman. McCraney and Reggie Odom were the second-team left tackles, with RDE Tim Bailey now backed by freshman Nick Bell. DE Charles Burns is also working as a second tackle, competing with McCraney.

Now healthy and turned loose to run, redshirt Damein Anderson has slotted back in as the second right cornerback and is making starter Marcus Washington work to keep that status. Freshman Corey Broomfield is third there. The left corner depth chart hasn't changed yet with Jasper O'Quinn, Tay Bowser, and rookie Louis Watson.

Keith Fitzhugh and Zach Smith will start the opener at safeties with De'Mon Glanton both the nickel safety and backup strong man. Freshman Charles Mitchell is second free safety and would likely play in the first game even without the single-date suspension of Derek Pegues. Robert Gurley has also practiced at nickel.

The staff might take it easy on starting linebackers Douglas, MLB Jamar Chaney who has a bruised shoulder, and SLB K.J. Wright by playing second and third men more. Anthony Littlejohn is running #2 at strong, Terrell Johnson on the weak-side, with either Karlin Brown or Mark Brown the third SLB and Mike Hunt the reserve WLB. Jamie Jones has had an excellent camp as the second MLB, but freshman Bo Walters has been given some series to work with the second unit lately as well.

The offensive line has remained unchanged save for injuries over the course of camp, though competition continues at right tackle where Mark Melichar is holding his place just ahead of Quentin Saulsberry. Veterans Michael Gates and Craig Jenkins are 1-2 at right guards; J. C. Brignone is first center and D.J. Looney the backup; Anthony Strauder and Derek Sherrod the left guard and tackle. The left-side backups are guard Dakota Merritt and tackle Chris Spencer. Until his first scrimmage injury freshman Tobias Smith was running second left guard; that badly-sprained ankle will keep him out over a month.

The best camp of his career has kept Anthony Dixon ahead of the halfback pack, no small feat. Christian Ducre is a comfortable second choice but redshirt Robert Elliot has come on fast this week and classmate Wade Bonner is getting accustomed to his new position. Arnil Stallworth is the reserve halfback and has taken some turns as a fullback in passing situations. There Hart has practiced very well and kept a camp-lead on a healthy Eric Hoskins. Several walk-ons, led by Sylvester Hemphill, are contending for the extra slot in the dress-out roster, or what Croom called the third ‘power' back role. As for Hart and Hoskins he regards them as co-starters right now depending on what set the first play is.

Among the eight healthy wide receivers, four have definitely proved to be the top half of this class. It's just a matter of keeping them available and settling which two among Jamayel Smith, Riley, Aubrey Bell, and Brandon McRae line up for the first snap. That's if just two are called for, since this camp the offense has shown sets of from one to four true receivers, not counting tight ends and backs. That said, true freshman Delmon Robinson is bidding for a spot in the rotation despite a hamstring setback. Classmate Arceto Clark is working his way into that mix as well, while Wilder is stuck in the training room.

Marcus Green, Brandon Henderson, and Nelson Hurst are just about even as far as tight end snaps, though Green has been the first one in for the last ten days.

At least one other Dog depth chart is apparently set for the 2008 season. Real dogs, that is. Reigning MSU mascot Tonka and heir apparent Champ both came to watch some practice Friday. And during team warm-ups Tonka was led over to greet Fitzhugh, prone on his back stretching, with a friendly lick on the forehead. One veteran Dog to another, as it were.

The Dogs that wear pads will have Sunday off, to prepare for the start of both fall semester classes Monday and the serious opening game preparations. Croom said the two-minute offense will be part of the specific agenda, while more generally the staff will be checking what freshmen can contribute immediately in backup and special teams jobs.


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